CIOs, CTOs, and Public-Private Partnerships: Overcoming Obstacles

Public-private partnerships offer an innovative way for private parties to profit while public parties and those who rely upon them reduce risk while getting much-needed projects completed. For CIOs and CTOs, public-private partnerships are an important mechanism for bringing tech innovation and infrastructure to entities like hospitals, schools, public works, and transportation.

CIOs and CTOs play a key role in using technical knowledge and platforms to make public-private partnerships successful. Still, even the most knowledgeable tech professional, and the most practiced private entity, is likely to encounter obstacles in bringing a public-private partnership to completion.

Public-private partnerships are large, multi-faceted projects, and like any other complex undertaking, there are challenges to overcome. Previously in our CIOs, CTOs, and Public-Private Partnerships series, we shared stories of success with you, so it is clear that many organizations and professionals have found ways to get through the hard parts.

Knowing the pitfalls and barriers to public-private partnership gives you the information you need to become a success story. With this information, you can plan and make informed choices if and when an obstacle presents itself.

Balancing Risk and Reward

The private entities involved in a public-private partnership take on much of the risk of these projects. So it has to be worthwhile. To avoid getting into a project that is more risk than reward, the private sector needs to carefully evaluate benefits against risks, especially when the project relies on the private sector to generate the income to pay off debt from the project. 

If a project involves significant risk, it follows that the private sector will want to be compensated appropriately, driving up the cost of the project in total. Private parties should also expect their control over the project to increase as risk increases to accept the terms. 

Of course, some risks are unforeseeable, especially in long-term public-private partnerships. Applicable laws may change, force majeure may happen, or third parties could default. Project risk allocation should be set out in any public-private partnership, sharing potential issues between the public and private sector as both parties see fit. 

Creating a Shared Vision

If all of the parties involved in a public-private partnership do not share a vision, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get the buy-in needed to make the project a success. While it is clearly important for both the public and private parties to share common project goals and framework, it is also important to get buy-in from the intended users of the finished project, and similar stakeholders.

For example, if a public-private partnerships brings a school and a tech company together, engaging the school community to create a shared vision is also important. Everyone involved can have some say in crafting the project, though there will cost certainly be compromise in the end. This outreach helps combat opposition, especially important when public funds are in play.

Communicating Through Setbacks

Public-private partnerships inevitably come with various types of setbacks. A deadline could be missed, quality could not meet the mark, or expenses could rise above projections. Unless there is a plan in place to deal with these setbacks together, both public and private partners run the risk of the relationship souring with blame and frustration, tainting the entire project.

To be successful, everyone involved in a public-private partnership needs to be able to admit to when things seem to be going off track so collaboration can happen to bring it back in line. That means parties need to set out, in advance, how they will deal with problems and allow for open communication. The ‘partner’ aspect of a public-private partnership is key here, ensuring that everyone understands the project relies on being able to work together.

Communicating through setbacks is also important to preemptively overcoming another common obstacle to public-private partnerships — political pushback. When these projects become known for blowing through budgets and deadlines, public entities grow wary of providing funding. It benefits everyone to commit to clear, open communication to avoid political fiascos.

Generally, a lot of the problems with public-private partnerships will be overcome through careful planning, regular communication both internally and externally, and consultation with all appropriate stakeholders to encourage buy-in and good publicity. Ensuring this strong platform from the start helps bring a public-private partnership through to a successful win-win for everyone. 

Next up, we will explore CIOs, CTOs, and Public-Private Partnerships: Baby Steps and Celebrating Successes. Not every public-private partnership has to be done on a massive scale, and even the small wins are well worth celebrating, as we will show you in our next article.

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